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  • Writer's pictureFiona Hewkin Counselling

Healing from Shame in Abuse Survivors

Updated: Oct 10, 2023


Shame is a very powerful emotion that can stay with us long after the abuse or childhood neglect has ended. Survivors often struggle with feelings of guilt, worthlessness and humiliation. This blog looks at the roots of shame with abuse survivors and looks at some of the ways to overcome it.


face of man showing shame on black background


What is Shame?

Shame is different to guilt. Guilt is often about something we have done. Shame is about who we are at our core. Shame is a deep-rooted belief that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. This is particularly evident in abuse survivors or those who suffered childhood emotional neglect. We often internalise the abuse we endured leading to toxic shame. This can show up in many ways


  • Low self esteem – often a sense of low self worth. Difficulty in believing we deserve love, happiness or ease.

  • Self destructive behaviours – trying to cope with overwhelming feelings can lead to addiction, self harm or toxic relationships

  • Self blame – somewhere along the line we internalise the abuse and end up thinking we deserved it or asked for it in some way

  • Isolation – it is easy to think that no one will understand us. That no one would love us if they really knew what we were like


Why We Feel Shame

There are lots of reasons that survivors might feel shame.


Society often stigmatises survivors. Just look at how often women who have experienced rape or sexual assault are asked about what they were wearing or where they were going.


Family dynamics can also encourage shame. If a child is told they are naughty, difficult, and are bad often enough they will start to believe it. Especially if this is coming from a parent or caregiver. As children we believe what our parents tell us, that is a basic survival skill. Unfortunately, the messages we hear about ourselves often aren’t true. Parents don’t need to explicitly say “you are bad” or “you are ugly”, as children we often pick up on what isn’t said. We get a sense of who we are and our worth from the way our parents respond to us. This can leave us, as adults with distorted beliefs about ourselves, thinking we are inherently bad or unworthy.


Small child covering their face in shame

Healing from Shame

Healing from shame is an essential part of our journey and this is where therapy can be so useful. A good therapist will help us treat ourselves with self-compassion, and to challenge negative beliefs. This will help to allow us to replace these beliefs with positive and affirming thoughts about ourselves. Most of us would benefit from having a much kinder relationship with ourselves. Many of us are overly critical of ourselves. The key to self-compassion is to try and treat ourselves in the same way we would treat a valued friend.



Improve Your Self-Care.

If we think we are rubbish, we are not likely to take care of ourselves well. Self-care is integral to recovery, and it’s not all about bubble baths and spa days. It can be as simple as eating right, getting enough sleep, and doing a bit of exercise.

Find something you like doing, that makes you smile and do more of it. I know we are all busy but make the time.


Forgiveness

Not for your abuser but for yourself! You didn’t do anything wrong. It’s time to stop holding yourself accountable for other peoples failures


Continuous Process

Recovering from shame is a continuous process., but one that is so worth undertaking. It’s lifetimes work really. Do feel free to get in touch via the

contact page if you would like to address any of the things in this blog.


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